The next premier of B.C. David Eby says he’ll deliver on issues that are priorities to northerners.
Speaking to The Terrace Standard after a northwest visit that included an hour-long tour of Terrace by city councillor and soon-to-be mayor Sean Bujtas, David Eby reeled off housing, healthcare, mental health supports, the opioid and homelessness crises as items he’ll address.
Eby’s visit to gather support from NDP members came in advance of his only rival being disqualified from the NDP leadership race. Bujtas will be appointed mayor in November as the only nominee for the position.
In acknowledging pressure on the housing market in Terrace, Eby pointed to a decline in available rentals affecting people with “very low incomes” while prices for single family dwellings are up across the northwest, so that those with “good incomes who should be able to find a decent place to live” can’t.
“Even though significant housing has been added Terrace is growing so quickly that it’s not keeping up,” Eby said.
“There’s a crying need for senior’s housing in particular.”
Eby’s fix is for government to step in and help increase housing supply and the province needs to work on a case-by-case basis with each community to meet those needs.
As former minister responsible for housing, Eby deosn’t expect the crisis to ease up in the northwest except by the province being more involved in supporting cities.
“Especially building middle class housing that’s actually attainable for families, seniors and others.”
Promising direct support from the province to address homelessness and addiction in Terrace, Eby said the scale of the problem has “reached a level that it’s beyond the ability of the city to deal with.”
Services also need to be improved behind bars, Eby argued, so that repeat offenders are in better shape once released.
“Contrary to a lot of the rhetoric right now people actually do go to jail in our province and when they go to jail unfortunately we have very limited mental health and addictions services in prison.
“When people come out often they’re worse than when they went in and it results in this revolving door and it results in judges, I believe, being reluctant to sentence people to jail because they don’t see that that will have any deterrent effect, and it won’t address the core issues that the person faces.”
Eby doubled down on his support of treating people with severe mental health and addictions issues whether or not they agree to it, adding that “jail is what we have right now” for involuntary care.
Pointing to the “profound” and “really visible” affect the toxic drug crisis is having on B.C. streets, he called for a mix of voluntary and involuntary treatments, “for people to start to see some improvement in our communities and for people who are sick to have a chance of building their lives.”
One of Eby’s ideas to help with the doctor shortage is to make it easier for new Canadians who are qualified in healthcare to be able to practice, with requirements that they work in rural and northern communities.
Healthcare access in the northwest will remain a challenge until the new Terrace hospital is up and running, Eby said, adding that he wants to incentivize family doctors with better pay.
Future mayor Bujtas, who drove Eby around the city to showcase the situation in Terrace, was glad for the chance to build a rapport with the future premier.
Bujtas also took the opportunity to lobby for a northwest resource benefits agreement (RBA) that would see revenue generated in the northwest funneled back into the communities.
There is a similar deal in the Peace region that benefits cities like Dawson Creek, that gets $15 million per year from its RBA to go toward capital projects.
“It was important for me to educate him on where we’re at with that,” Bujtas said.
“I think if we can get an RBA deal done that’s equitable and fair to all the communities in the northwest I think it’s going to change this town completely over the course of a decade.”
But Eby didn’t promise to achieve such a deal before the next election in 2024.
“Government signed a memorandum of understanding at the last union of BC municipalities meeting to drive this work and that work would continue with the goal of reaching an agreement that supports cities.”
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